Under Federal Law, Current Deputy Thomas Bowman Is The Only Legal Choice for Acting Veterans’ Affairs Secretary
WASHINGTON, DC – VoteVets, the largest progressive group of veterans in America, and Democracy Forward today threatened to continue legal action against the Trump Administration if it again breaks the Federal Vacancies Reform Act by replacing Acting Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie with anyone other than the Deputy Secretary, Thomas Bowman.
Last week, President Trump suddenly announced that he intended to nominate Mr. Wilkie for VA Secretary, reportedly to the shock of Wilkie himself. According to the Fayetteville Observer, Mr. Wilkie intends to step down from that position once his nomination to be the permanent Secretary is submitted to the Senate. However, each day Mr. Wilkie remains Acting VA Secretary after his nomination is submitted, the Trump Administration is breaking the law. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act provides that “a person may not serve as an acting officer for an office if … the President submits a nomination of such person to the Senate for appointment to such office.” 5 U.S.C. § 3345(b).
“To say that Donald Trump’s handling of the VA has been a chaotic disaster would be an understatement, but he now has the chance to do one thing right,” said Will Fischer, Iraq War Veteran and Director of Government Relations for VoteVets. “The law is clear, and the law, in this instance, actually prescribes that the best person take over for Robert Wilkie. Donald Trump should follow the law, and elevate Deputy Secretary Bowman to Acting Secretary.”
Regardless, President Trump already broke the law when he appointed Wilkie to serve as the acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the first place, rather than Deputy Secretary Bowman. Because President Trump fired the former VA Secretary, David Shulkin, he did not and does not have the power to fill the position with an acting Secretary of his choosing. The Trump Administration will therefore break the law again if, when Wilkie steps down from his current position, Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman is not permitted to serve as the rightful acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“The chaos at the VA shows President Trump’s disregard for the interests of veterans and the rule of law,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “President Trump should follow the law and allow Deputy Secretary Bowman to serve in his rightful position.”
Democracy Forward, in partnership with VoteVets, filed a lawsuit challenging the President’s selection of Robert Wilkie to serve as acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs. If President Trump decides to appoint another unlawful acting Secretary while Wilkie’s nomination proceeds, Democracy Forward and VoteVets will seek to amend their complaint to hold him accountable for his repeated violations of federal law.